Training Puppies From the Start to Set Them Up for Success

Train them early on to make sure they are well-behaved in adulthood.

Published December 13, 2022
Man holding dog treat and looking at puppy sitting down

Training a puppy can be daunting, even for experienced dog owners. Many people don't know where to begin. Teaching puppies how to act, respond to commands, and redirect their energy can seem like a massive chore. But it doesn't need to be. It all starts with fun. Puppies need a lot of love and attention balanced with appropriate training and boundaries. There's so much to learn as a new puppy parent, and it can be difficult to know where to start. If you're looking for some advice on how to introduce your new puppy to the basics, or if you're just curious about what goes into teaching them, we've got you covered.

Positivity-based Training

Positivity-based training is a technique that uses positive reinforcement to teach your puppy new behaviors. It's gentle, effective, and can be used with puppies as young as 8 weeks old. Positivity-based training, or positive reinforcement training, is versatile, too. You can use positive training methods in house-training your pup or to help deal with negative behaviors, such as by preventing excessive barking.

The idea behind this kind of training is to make sure that every interaction you have with your puppy is a positive one. When you give your puppy treats or play with them, it reinforces the behavior you want them to do, such as sitting, and discourages the behavior you don't want them to do, like jumping up.

Instead of punishing a pup for something they did, you redirect their negative behavior and reinforcement their positive behavior with affection, treats, and love. This helps build your bond, and keeps your puppy on the right track. Positive reinforcement is based on behavioral science and operant conditioning, and it is well established that positive reinforcement works in people and animals. Stick with positivity-based training throughout your pup's life, and you'll both be better off for it.

Basic Obedience and How to Start Right

Puppies are full of energy, and they just want to play all the time. However, if you want to be able to handle your puppy and have a well-rounded dog, begin basic obedience training with them as soon as possible. If you wait until they're older, it may be more difficult and time-consuming for them to learn proper behavior. You really only need to start with three basic commands: "Sit," "Stay," and "Come."

Teaching the "Sit" Command

Use this command when you need your dog to sit still in one place while waiting for something or someone. The best way to teach this command is by using a treat as a reward. Hold your hand flat with your palm facing up next to your dog's nose, and then slowly raise it upwards while saying "Sit" in an encouraging tone.

When they start leaning back onto their hind legs, praise them verbally, and then give them the treat once they're sitting completely straight. This should only take about three or four times before they learn what it means for them to sit down when they hear "Sit." Some puppies may take longer than others to learn, so don't get discouraged if it takes more time. Consistency is key.

After your pup is sitting consistently, ease off on the treats and praise. Begin to offer positive reinforcement at longer intervals. This is what's known as "intermittent reinforcement," and it is the type of reinforcement that generates the strongest desire to display the conditioned behavior. So, instead of giving a treat every time your pup sits, start giving a treat only every third time, and then every fifth or tenth time. This will leave your dog eager to perform the behavior, in expectation of a possible rare treat, rather than getting bored with the treat and refusing to sit.

Teaching the "Stay" Command

Teaching your puppy how to stay in place is an important step in their training. By teaching your puppy to stay, you are giving them a command that will help keep them out of trouble and get along with other pets and people. A strong "Stay" command can often help keep your puppy safe, as well.

The easiest way to teach your puppy to stay is by using a leash and treats. First, start out by making sure that you have a long enough leash so that your pup can move around freely but still be close enough for you to reach them easily. If your puppy is energetic, try playing with them before starting training to wear off some of their energy.

Next, find some tasty treats that your pup will love. Single-ingredient, air-dried treats work well for this. First, put your dog on a sit command. Next, hold up one treat in front of your dog's nose and say "Stay," as you move slowly toward them. When they stay still for about two seconds or until they start getting antsy, reward them with another treat from behind their back or from under their chin. This will encourage them to stay put longer next time.

Repeat this process until your dog can sit for five seconds without moving or sniffing for more treats. Continue to increase the amount of time between rewards until your puppy will stay for as long as requested.

Teaching the "Come" Command

Teaching your puppy to come is one of the most important commands to master. A strong recall command -- another name for the "Come" command -- is essential for puppy and adult dogs to stay safe, especially out in public or when around other people and animals. Getting your puppy to respond to this command consistently is essential for keeping them safe while they are out and about.

First, make sure that you have a long leash attached to their collar or harness. This will help keep them under control if they decide to run off or follow another animal or person instead of returning to you on their own.

Next, try calling them in an excited tone. If your puppy does not respond, walk toward them and call again once you get closer. If they still don't come back, pick them up and set them down in front of you so that they know where they need to go when called again. If you pup comes in, reward them immediately with treats and praise. The key is consistency. Don't repeat the "Come" command over and over. Say it once, reposition, and if that doesn't work, gently guide your puppy with a treat in-hand to the appropriate spot.

Patience, repetition, and consistency is key to build a strong recall command. Don't get angry. The last thing you want to do is have your dog associate your recall command with you being upset. Go slowly, and repeat the same procedure over and over. As your dog begins to respond, slowly lengthen the distance between yourself and your pup when you give the command. Practice often with high-value treats that your dog loves. When your dog catches on and comes every time, slowly start tapering the number of treats you give. Repeat this process until your puppy responds consistently every time.

Building Blocks for More Advanced Training

If you can master "Sit," "Stay," and "Come" commands with your puppy, you are in a better position than many dog owners. These three commands are foundational for good dog behavior later in life. Don't be in a hurry to move on to other types of training. Treat these three commands as games to play with your pup. They'll catch on if you make it light and fun.

As you teach these commands, you will begin to learn your pup's personality and what works best when teaching them. How do they respond to treats? Do they like a particular item, or do they get bored with food after you give a couple rewards? Maybe you need to move on to praise as the positive reward. Work with your dog, learn their body language, and take your cues from them. If your pup gets tired and bored easily, maybe move on to teaching another command or redirect them with a game, and come back to it later. This foundation sets your pup up for greater success when they become adult dogs.

Make It About Play

The secret is, always make it fun for your puppy. Training is a game in itself. If your puppy isn't doing what you want them to do, immediately redirect their negative behavior by getting their attention, signaling that it's time to play a different game. This helps get rid of negative things you don't want your dog to do, without having to resort to punishment training techniques.

Remember, however, not to reward your pup just for redirecting their behavior. This can lead to unwanted conditioning. For example, if every time your dog starts barking, you starting praising them (in an attempt to redirect them), you're teaching your dog that barking equals rewards. Instead, catch their eye and give them a command. Promise the reward behind the behavior. If they do what they're asked, then they'll get a reward. It's also OK to say "No" in a firm but calm voice (just once -- don't make it about nagging them) when they're doing something you don't like, so they learn that their negative behavior does not earn a reward.

It helps to build your training around exercise (which is just another game to your pup), and make sure you get their energy out. Training is all about spending time with your pup, making regular daily efforts to interact with them, and starting from a foundation of play. Your pup won't be bored, and it is so much easier to work with a dog who is engaged and eager to please.

Puppy Training Classes

One of the most exciting parts of owning a puppy is that they're always learning. They're always growing, and they're always figuring out who they are and what their place in the world is. That's why puppy training classes are so important. They help you and your puppy grow together and further enhance the bond you share.

Your puppy will learn all kinds of things in class, including how to sit politely for petting, how to walk on a leash without pulling, how to play with their toys quietly and appropriately, and much more. They'll also get important socialization by meeting other puppies and people in their class.

You'll learn new ways of communicating with your puppy, too, whether it's through clicker training or by using hand signals instead of verbal cues. These socialization classes are invaluable for every puppy and puppy owner. Through a quality program, you can begin building a lifelong bond around training with your puppy.

Don't Wait, Get Started

Beginning training when your dog is a puppy is the key to having a good relationship with them. Training your puppy is not something you should take lightly or neglect. Yes, it's a lot of work, but it pays dividends later, when your dog is fully grown and behaves well, responding to your commands and acting how you want them to act. It can be very simple, however, if you are consistent and have patience. Just remember to set rules for your puppy so that the training carries over even during less structured moments. Training a puppy isn't magic: you just have to dedicate yourself to doing it with a patient, positive attitude, and you will be successful.

Training Puppies From the Start to Set Them Up for Success